A contemporary and rival for important portrait commissions of John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn painted some of the most wealthy and important people in the world around the turn of the twentieth century, including three United States Presidents. His portrait of Grover Cleveland (above, from 1899) shows the only elected man president for two nonconsecutive terms years after his time in office. Born February 18, 1860, Zorn captures the toll that eight years in office took on Cleveland as well as the liveliness that made Cleveland the last president to get married while in office. Zorn traveled throughout his career, much like Sargent, making friends with fellow artists wherever he went, such as with Rodin during his time in France. Unlike Sargent, Zorn is largely forgotten today—one of those painters that open-eyed gallery goers are drawn to by the sheer quality of their work rather than by the name on the wall plaque.
Aside from his stunning portraits, Zorn’s works most often gracing museum walls are his nudes, such as Frileuse (above, from the 1890s). Zorn’s early nudes display his realistic bent, but he soon developed a more Impressionistic style, such as that seen in Frileuse. Again, like Sargent, who I see as the closest “known” artist to gauge the “unknown” Zorn against, Zorn flirts with Impressionism but never fully goes into it stylistically. Hints of Renoir’s bathers appear in Zorn’s young female nudes cavorting in rivers or bathing in tubs. The sensuousness that Zorn injects into his female nudes may owe something to his time spent with Rodin, no stranger to the female form.
Despite his peripatetic ways, Zorn always returned to his native Sweden and native Swedish subjects. A Musical Family (above, from 1905) stands as one of the many genre scenes Zorn painted of the small-town life of rural Sweden, where any entertainment to be had needed to be made by the people themselves. In the middle of the fire-lit room, the red dress of the woman playing a stringed instrument flames up and directs your eye to the very back of the picture immediately, pulling you across the dance floor as if you were joining in the festivities. With a series of loose brushstrokes, Zorn creates the male violinist in the upper right corner intently bowing his instrument. Anyone who could conjure up such figures with a few gestures deserves to be better known.